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Earnhardt Leaves Loudon With 4th-Place Finish

By Mike Davis, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 7/15/2012
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Race: Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 1.058-mile speedway / 301 Laps
Weather: Sunny, 80 degrees
Race Winner: Kasey Kahne
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 4th

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew team finished fourth on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to secure the team’s eighth top-five and 14th top-10 of the season. With the finish Earnhardt remains in second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, gaining nine points on point-leader Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt now trails Kenseth by 16 points, and he is 24 points in front of third-place Greg Biffle.

By completing all 301 laps on Sunday, Earnhardt Jr. added to his NASCAR record of most consecutive races of lead-lap finishes to start a season. He has finished on the lead lap in each of the 19 races in 2012, completing all 5,488 laps. His streak of consecutive lead-lap finishes is 20 dating back to Homestead-Miami’s season finale last year. The record for most consecutive lead-lap finishes spread out over multiple seasons is 21, set by Jeff Gordon in 1998 and 1999. Dale Jr. is now one race away from tying that record.

Earnhardt Jr. spent most of the first 220 laps in the fifth position. The few exceptions were at the beginning of the race when he started ninth, slipped to 10th, but found enough grip to climb all the way to fifth by lap 72. He slipped to sixth on two occasions during pit sequencing, but each time – laps 94 and 195 – he reclaimed the fifth spot in less than a lap after the restart.

Junior made his biggest challenge for the lead on lap 233 when green-flag pit stops had begun. Earnhardt had inherited third place when the yellow-flag flew. A two-tire stop on lap 235 moved him up to second, but he couldn’t take the lead away from Kasey Kahne on the restart. Earnhardt was then passed by Clint Bowyer for third and Denny Hamlin for fourth in the final 50 laps.

Kahne won the race, benefitting from a two-tire call on the final stop to take the lead. Hamlin took four tires, dropping him mid pack. He raced back up to second but could get no closer. Bowyer finished third followed by Earnhardt and Brad Keselowski.

DALE JR. POST-RACE QUOTES
Overall feelings on the fourth-place finish:
“We were about a tenth (of a second) off all weekend. I was a little surprised, too, because we tire-tested here last month and were super quick and real happy with the car. We just didn’t have enough speed all weekend. We worked on the car real hard, worked on it during the race, but just couldn’t run any better. Track position was really important to us. I don’t know if we had enough race car to get up there and race anybody. I’m just happy to run in the top five with what we had today.”

On racing at New Hampshire:
“We feel like we run better at this track for whatever reason when we come back for the second race (in September). Maybe it has something to do with the weather or a combination of the weather and something I like, I don’t know. I like coming here. I love running here. The tire is a little slick. I don’t know man, we’re pretty excited about our chances when it comes to the Chase, but we still have things to learn and accomplish before we get there. We’re making sure not to look too far ahead. We’re concentrating on one race at a time.”

On areas the team is working on for the Chase:
“Well, we need to run like this. When the car is a tenth off and we have about a 10th-place car, we need to use good strategy and be smart on the race track and finish in the top-five with it and run in the top-five every week. And if we’re going to win a championship, we need to win some more races, too. We’re running strong. I’m real happy with how many points we’re gaining every week and what we’re doing consistently. But National Guard and Diet Mountain Dew would like to be in Victory Lane, and that’s where I want to be, too. We just need a tick more speed. We’ve gotten faster, and we found speed and improved. We just need a little bit more to be one of those dominate cars every week.”

Loudon Race Report
Start 9th
Finish 4th
Laps Completed (Led) 301 of 301 (0)
Standings (from leader) 2nd (-16)
Pit Stops Laps 69, 90 (2 tires), 155, 191 (2 tires) and 235 (2 tires)
Condition Running

 

Standings
After Ford EcoBoost 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 +1 Denny Hamlin 4112 0
2 -1 Joey Logano 4111 -1
3 -- Ryan Newman 4103 -9
4 +4 Kevin Harvick 4102 -10
5 -1 Jeff Gordon 4102 -10
6 -1 Matt Kenseth 4100 -12
7 -- Brad Keselowski 4095 -17
8 -2 Carl Edwards 4088 -24
8 +2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2301 -2742
9 -- Kyle Busch 2280 -1832
10 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2271 -1841
11 +1 AJ Allmendinger 2256 -1856
Full Standings